The future of our cities will depend upon how the discourse on development squares with notions of sustainability, inclusivity and preservation of historic memories. Creating equitable living conditions will have to take into account the ‘invisible’ entities – women, the poor and animals – how they negotiate our cities. We can begin by acknowledging that we have a long way to go.
In this issue of Tekton, we feature papers, essays and discussions that address some of these issues. They present a parallel viewpoint towards looking at city and reveal things that are not obvious. In my last editorial, I said that we do not intend to make Tekton thematic. However, the array of topics in one issue can form a comprehensive set of ideas that constitute a larger discourse. Three papers in this issue raise questions on inclusivity in cities by laying bare the invisible. ‘We can tell a lot about a city by how its poor live’ ; whether women find it safe to negotiate and accessible to participate; and also whether and how animals coexist with humans in urban spaces. Much of these discussions are often outside the gaze of regular planning mechanisms but vital for a robust city. The ‘Dialogue’ section takes a lateral view on urbanisation. It features a discussion on a mode of urban development which is sensitive to preservation of natural environment.
The city of Bombay / Mumbai features in various ways in this issue- all of them renew our understanding of this great Indian city. The essay on writing lays out a landscape of new books written on Bombay and their contexts. It argues that the writings on a city archive and shape its ‘mental life’, its psychological and intellectual life. The paper on Bombay’s Backbay buildings contributes in the understanding of this characteristic Art Deco area, which although being listed as Grade III heritage precinct, is in danger of being obliterated on the altar of development as shown by the acts of omission in the recently tabled Development Plan (DP) of Mumbai for the next two decades . We can say that being callous about preserving heritage not only makes a city’s urban fabric devoid of distinguishing motifs but also benumbs the ‘mental life’ of its inhabitants- by wiping out collective memories. This DP, just like its predecessors also fails to articulate a policy for informal settlements known as slums. These house more than 70% of its population, besides being hubs of informal waste recycling and manufacturing. The paper on slums cites cases from Mumbai while discussing the concept of resilience- something that can positively inform the planning process.
We present the following offerings in the present issue:
Rebecca Hui in her paper focuses on existence of cows in human settlements- from rural to hyper urban- in India. This is no empty fascination of a tourist eager to whip out her camera at the clichéd sight of cows in Indian towns and cities. Hers is a deeply empathetic engagement with the lives of urban animals and in her painstakingly meticulous research process she brings out original insights about the changing relationship between cows and city dwellers and how this is intertwined with urban development. She shows that between being considered sacred and being employed to exploit this sacredness cows have to perform many roles to survive in a city.
Sudnya Mahimkar and Vasudha Gokhale in their paper talk about gender mainstreaming among many strategies that can be effectively adopted for making the cities gender sensitive and thereby more inclusive. They cite several examples from different parts of the world where small and large initiatives in urban planning and design that are sensitive to the needs of women while negotiating public spaces. They assert a similar need in India to create an understanding of special needs of women leading to inclusive city planning.
Deepika Andavarapu and Mahyar Arefi in their paper consider slums as resilient urban systems and examine the role of social capital towards this resilience. They examine the theoretical concept of resilience, its applicability in urban planning, particularly in context of slums to cope with various situations. They go on to propose a theoretical framework to observe resilience in a slum to understand its inherent capacity to organise and improve quality of life.
Mustansir Dalvi in his paper provides unique insights in Bombay’s architecture from the thirties and the forties by adopting a semiological approach that reads buildings as texts that contain rich meanings about their time. The paper investigates two groups of Bombay’s Backbay buildings- at the Oval Maidan and Marine Drive- and decodes the Art Deco design vocabulary. The research is relevant to the fields of modern architectural history of the Indian subcontinent and historic preservation.
Kaiwan Mehta talks about the ‘mental life’ of a city that can best be glimpsed through the books written on it and whether such writing practices reveal/ shape the conscience of a city. Mehta presents a panoply of writings on Bombay/ Mumbai but particularly focuses on three recent books by writers coming from a variety of standpoints. Individually, they capture the city of their imagination, dreams, memory, concrete experiences of living everyday life of its denizens or catastrophic events that change a city’s ethos. We have also included brief excerpts from these three books to give a flavour of their narrative.
The ‘Practice’ section is where we invite architects/ planners to reflect upon their own practices- to draw out the critical ideas underlying their works. In this issue we feature Kamu Iyer, a veteran architect, pedagogue and author from Bombay. In his essay, Iyer chooses one project among many institutional projects from his long and ongoing career of over five decades. He recounts the story of its journey and provides a glimpse into his creative processes. He adopts the approach of diagram- an approach that he has used evocatively in his books about Bombay’s architecture.
In the ‘Dialogue’ series this time we feature Henrik Valeur, an architect-urbanist from Denmark in conversation with Richa Sharma. Valeur’s career straddles both India and China besides Europe; this makes for very interesting perspective on cities and urban development in Asia and particularly India. Valeur advocates a theory of urbanisation as a means to address poverty while safeguarding the environment, this theory he describes as ‘Development Urbanisation’ in his latest book which is also reviewed here by Pallavi Dalal.
I thank all the contributors for sharing their research with a large audience of students, academics and professionals via Tekton. I thank the members of the editorial board and the expert reviewers for providing sharp feedback to the researchers that enabled a robust review and revision process.
I express condolences on behalf of the publishers and the editorial committee on passing of Prof. Bharat Dave, Professor of Architecture at the University of Melbourne, and an esteemed member of the Editorial Board of Tekton.
Together, this collection again emphasises a need for multiple perspectives from multiple disciplines to make any meaningful discussion on cities and its architecture. I hope it makes for stimulating reading. We also invite quality contributions for future issues, the submission process being ongoing.
1 The term ‘invisible’ in urban design and planning largely stems from feminist critique of mainstream processes that do not turn their gaze on needs of women, their accessibility or mobility patterns and their experiences of spaces. We can expand this idea to include other sections of the society similarly overlooked.
2 From Kamu Iyer, Boombay: From Precincts to Sprawl, Mumbai: Popular Prakashan, 2014, p.146
3 Mumbai’s draft Development Plan (DP) 2034 through an act of omission removed the heritage protection cover to many of its listed buildings and Grade III precincts that also includes the Backbay’s Marine Drive precinct.
For a detailed report, see Shalini Nair, ‘Landmark Structures lose heritage tag in new draft plan for Mumbai’, News report in The Indian Express, March 28, 2015.
Also see Shalini Nair, ‘DP paves way for redevelopment of Grade III heritage structures’, News report in The Indian Express’s Mumbai Newsline, March 30, 2015.